For whatever it’s worth, I’ve bent over backwards to give Tiger Woods the benefit of the doubt. No, not about the horrible things he’s been doing behind everyone’s (especially his wife’s) back, but about being a golfing star of whom I could be a fan. I don’t normally care what such figures do in their private lives (I’ll bet that in many ways your typical baseball or football star is a pretty big asshole, too, but I still watch and root), I’m only in it for the enjoyment of watching them perform to seemingly superhuman levels in their respective sport.
But there’s a limit.
I cheered for Tiger when he made great shots during this past Masters. I groaned in sympathy when his shots went awry, and said words of encouragement that I knew meant nothing but which made me feel like a proper fanboi. When the wheels seemed to be coming off his metaphorical wagon I felt badly for him and wanted him to pull it together and carry one of his famous last-ditch charges.
Then came the final round 14th. I can’t actually fault him for missing what should have been for him an easy birde putt: stuff happens. It’s what happened after that spoke volumes to me. Instead of pausing, re-grouping, gathering that famed steel focus and tapping in for par, he sulkily slapped the ball towards the hole with barely a pause, and turned in a bogey for a critical hole. On the final day. Of the Masters. When he was still theoretically in contention.
The kind of consummate professional whose performance can help me overlook his personal foibles does not put on little sulky tantrums on a national stage, nor discredit the prestige of a venue like the Masters with such a display. The CBS coverage all but ignored him after that, and good for them: why give Tiger more of a stage for such behavior?
Then on the 18th, with people who normally could be expected to jeer or just sit in stony silence instead offering him ovations, he achieved one of golf’s nicest feelings: a solid, well-played birdie on the big stage. Did he celebrate it, and what was (given his struggles) actually a damned good round? No, he just waved dismissively at the hole, like “so what?”
The “icing on the cake” for me was the mercifully brief post-round interview. Rather than gratitude for his reception after such damning revelations of his sordid behavior, rather than some Buddha-like acceptance of the fact that only someone with his gifts could turn in a top five performance at a major after five months away from the game, rather than owning up to the fact that his outbursts on the course (while certainly cleaner language-wise than in the past) shows his claimed spiritual centering needs work, he instead opted to whine that he didn’t win. Now he’s going to take his marbles and go home to sulk and decide when he’ll compete again.
Good on Phil for a virtuoso workshop in precision approach (if not outright trick) shooting, a hearty salute to “Westy” for hanging tough to the very end even when it seemed Mickelson could do no wrong, massive kudos to Choi for playing like a well-designed machine, and crazy props to Kim for showing the world that he’s growing up and into his promise as one of golf’s future greats. More kudos to others who covered themselves in glory this past week: Couples, Watson, Poulter, Barnes, and too many others to mention. It was a truly great event.
And that’s what I’m going to remember about this year’s Masters. Tiger who?